Did You Know That Organ Donation Can Include the Brain

When you register for a license you’re often asked two questions that have little to do with driving. Do you want to register to vote? Would you like to become an organ donor?

As an old often feel invincible. So maybe you register to vote. But you likely register to donate your organs, not even fully realizings the gift you could potentially give someone.

Years later, when you renew your license or register to drive in another state, you’re asked those same two questions. Again, you may or may not register to vote, but you think about organ donation a little more seriously, at least for a moment.

You might wonder:

  • Which organs would they donate?
  • Under what circumstance would I become an organ donor?
  • How many people really need an organ and why?

Today, Donate Life America says that 115,000 men, women, and children are awaiting a life-saving organ, and another person is added to the list every 10 minutes. Worse yet, 22 people die each day because the organ they needed didn’t become available in time.

Thankfully, 2017 was another record-setting year for organ donation as 34,768 transplants were performed, up 3.4 percent over 2016.

While a kidney is still the number one needed organ on the list, did you know that even the brain could be donated?

Due to the extensive medical research network working to save lives, brain donation is now a possibility. This makes sense if you look at the data.

More than 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease—just one type of dementia where cognitive ability declines so much as to dramatically alter daily life. And this number, says the Alzheimer’s Association, is expected to rise to 14 million by 2050.

But of course, Alzheimer’s is just one reason someone might need a brain transplant. Other conditions that would be eligible for such type of donation include schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

However, we’re not quite to where we can just take someone’s brain and place it in someone else’s body; this isn’t Frankenstein, but advanced science performed by a medical research network.

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And it’s this network that needs these donations, as before any action can happen, it has to be thoroughly studied.

Just like you might compare one apple to another to decide if one is still viable based on their differences and similarities, researchers perform similar tasks. Due to selfless donations, they are able to compare healthy brain tissue to diseased brain tissue. From this research they can potentially determine so much including:

  • How did the once healthy brain become diseased?
  • How did the disease spread?
  • Was the disease a natural progression or caused/spread by something specific?
  • What could help future generations prevent this disease?
  • What medications or treatments could help future generations ward off the disease once diagnosed?
  • What’s the best and least invasive way to diagnose the disease?

And the questions and answers don’t end there. In fact, it’s this research that spurs medical advancement and benefits those to come.

How to Donate Your Brain? 

So, do you want to make a difference even after you’ve passed on through organ donation? Here’s how you can donate your brain:

While you could leave a note in your Will, it may be too late as brain banking needs to occur very soon after death. For this reason, the best way to donate your brain to the medical research network is through the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). This resource can then provide you with nearby banks that accept brain and spinal tissue donation.

Consent for this donation can also be confirmed by either your spouse or another person whom you designate as someone who can make medical decisions on your behalf.

I want to donate my other organs. Can I donate both?


Actually, in some circumstances, you will be able to donate your brain and spinal cord tissue to research and donate your other organs to another person. However, it’s best to discuss it with your local brain bank if this is your desire.

Regardless of these major medical decisions, it is important to keep your family up-to-date on your last wishes. Even if you’re an active, young, healthy adult, if you want to donate your organs, you will have the best success if you share this with your next-of-kin.

Is donation guaranteed? 

No organ donation is ever guaranteed as the cause of death and various other factors are taken into consideration beforehand. If the death occurred due to mysterious circumstances and a medical examiner must determine the cause of death, this often precludes donation.

Certain brain banks may also rule your donation ineligible due to your past medical history and if the organ cannot be recovered in a timely fashion, this will also eliminate the option of donation.

Additionally, if you choose to donate your body to a medical school for anatomical examination, this will also prevent you from donating in other capacities, as the whole body is required.

Will I need to alter desired memorial plans? 

Your family can still enact any post-mortem memorial or burial wishes you desire even if you’ve donated your brain and spinal cord, but if you have any questions, reach out to your local brain bank for more information.

Brain donation has the potential to lead to medical advancements to help those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease both now and in the future. It is, however, a very personal decision that should not be taken lightly.

It is in your best interest to collect all information before making any decisions, but more often people are choosing donation as the viable option. Some are even doing so in honor of someone they love who has a cognitive disorder, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

While the Alzheimer’s Association expects a rise in the disease, it is actions like this that could curb their estimates and provide new treatment and prevention options.

In the meantime, if you want to stay abreast of the latest advancements for someone you love with Alzheimer’s, connect with the Memory Health Center, as it’s clinics such as this that are first to implement these upcoming medical improvements.


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